CERRITOS, CALIF. — With the absence of travel and consumers spending more time at home, restaurants may provide the opportunity for diners to supplement lost experiences with global flavors and dishes, according to a new report from T. Hasegawa USA, Inc.

The report cited a study from Mintel that found more than 70% of US consumers enjoy trying new experiences, including food and drink flavor discovery. Gen Z and millennials had the most diverse palates and showed the strongest interest in international cuisine. Younger consumers were most interested in trying African and Korean dishes, along with Japanese, Indian, Latin American and Middle Eastern cuisine.

Consumers have leaned into the cultural melting pot in recent years, with the growth of fusion foods on US menus outpacing all other cuisines between 2015 and 2019, according to the report. Latin dishes also made waves on menus, with the incidence of Latin cuisine increasing 121% during the period, driven by trending dishes like queso fundido, empanada, churros and carne asada.

Globally inspired flavors like chilies may appeal to consumers looking to expand their palates, T. Hasegawa said, while established flavors like mushroom, Key lime and sesame can be moved around the menu to new items and dayparts. An outlier to this trend is cherry blossom, which is just breaking into the US menu scene but has elicited strong interest as an emerging flavor, T. Hasegawa said. Other emerging flavors include chive, beer, dill, fig, poblano prepper, tahini and za’atar.

chart showing which meal occasions consumers are most likely to use to try new flavorsFoodservice operators looking to incorporate new flavors may consider appetizer portions. Nearly half of consumers said they were most likely to try an unfamiliar flavor in an appetizer, compared to 35% who try new flavors in dinner entrees. Twenty-eight percent of consumers said they explore new flavors in lunch entrees and 13% said they experiment with new flavors in breakfast entrees.

While interest in international cuisine is growing, southern comfort foods are making a comeback on quick-service and fast casual menus. Nearly 60% of consumers said they are interested in southern comfort foods, according to the report. The incidence of fried chicken sandwiches has doubled and waffle pairings have increased 81% on menus since 2016. Nashville-style chicken also is on the rise, increasing 83% in menu mentions between 2018 and 2020. Another southern household staple, pimento cheese, gained traction in limited-time-offers on chain and independent menus this summer, T. Hasegawa said.